Young Characters and Mistakes

I’m pleased as all get-out to announce the release of Fire Storm, the fifth book in my middle-grade adventure series Hero’s Sword. The book is available digitally and in print at all retailers (you can check the book page for links). Here’s the blurb:

Running for student council president seemed like a good idea at the time, but the campaign strategy sessions with Kara have Jaycee realizing just how much work is involved. Then there’s the strain it’s putting on Jaycee’s friendship with Stu, who is not exactly being supportive.

Escaping to Mallory is no escape from drama. Upon arrival, Lyla meets Rowenna Blacking, young nobility fleeing the neighboring estate of Trevayne amid accusations of theft and arson. Rowenna insists she’s been framed by her own brother in a bid for estate rule.

When a similar fire breaks out at Mallory Manor it adds more urgency to the situation. Joining forces with Galen, her male counterpart from Trevayne, Lyla must find solid evidence as to whether Rowenna is guilty or innocent–or if the answer lies somewhere in between.

We’re talking mistakes this month and that brings me to our characters. Now, nobody (well at least none of the people I know) want perfect characters. That is, characters who never make a mistake. Perfect is boring. It’s also unrealistic. How many people do you know in real life who never make mistakes? Probably very few.

So we want characters to make mistakes. It keeps the human. It also keeps the tension up. But the kind of mistakes are very dependent on the type of character. For example, the protagonist in my Laurel Highlands Mysteries is an adult man. And he’s a police officer. There are some mistakes he just cannot make or else I run the risk of him being perceived as unprofessional or bad at his job. Likewise, he can’t have a temper-tantrum. Not that he can’t get mad, but he has to deal with it in an adult manner. And when he makes a mistake, he has to own it and deal with the fall-out as an adult. Otherwise, I run the risk of him being perceived as selfish, immature, unreliable, or a whole host of undesirable traits.

By contrast, Jaycee Hiller–the protagonist in Hero’s Sword–is thirteen. She’s allowed a little more leeway. It’s okay if she makes mistakes that an adult would never make–because she’s not an adult. She doesn’t have the experiences that would keep her from making those mistakes. And when she makes them, she’s allowed to sulk a little. Not a lot, because then she comes off as petulant and spoiled. But a little. She is, after all, an adolescent. I’m sure you remember being thirteen. And I’m also quite sure you remember that your skills in dealing with the consequences of your mistakes was, well, not the best.

So Jaycee makes mistakes. Many of which kids will related to. Many of which adults will say, “You shouldn’t have done that.” My goal is not to keep Jaycee from messing up. But hopefully she learns from her adventures and doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Because no matter what the age, a character who makes the same mistake again and again and again is aggravating. Mistakes can be wonderful vehicles for growth–as long as there is some growth to be seen.

My whole point of this series was to write something that kids in middle-school can read and say, “Been there, done that.” I know my middle-school experience had some definite rocky parts. With book five safely out the door, I look forward to helping Jaycee reach her potential. She’s going to make more mistakes, sure, but she’ll be a better person for them.

Readers: How does your mistake-tolerance differ depending on the character? Do you cut certain characters a bit more “slack”?

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

7 thoughts on “Young Characters and Mistakes”

  1. I think there are basically two camps of characters: those who have persistence and are smart about what they do, and those who have persistence but make lots of mistakes. I always want to root for the main character, and their mistake making helps me to connect with them. As long as they learn and occasionally catch a break!

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  2. Congrats, Mary! As long as there’s a good reason for making the mistake, as you pointed out, then mistakes are more interesting for me to read.

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  3. Congratulations, Mary. That is a milestone I hope to emulate! You are spot on in talking about mistakes, they have to fit the character, both the personality and the job, and their reactions to them have to be–well, in character!

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  4. Cynthia, I’m glad the liked it.

    Sue, yes. The key is finding a good reason.

    Kait, you’ll get there I’m sure. And it’s always about everything fitting the character, isn’t it?

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